October 21, 2008
Broncos Get Bucked By Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- These aren't your older brother's Broncos.
The Denver Broncos you all know and fear do things like go 18-5 against the Patriots since the merger. They do things like put guys like John Elway and Jake Plummer in at quarterback and never lose with them. They kill you with wideouts like Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey and Javon Walker. They gash you with backs like Terrell Davis, Tatum Bell, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Olandis Gary. On defense, they clobber you with Bill Romanowski, Al Wilson, John Mobley, Trevor Pryce, John Lynch and Champ Bailey.
On Monday night, the Patriots looked more fearsome and more efficient than any teams which featured those old Patriot nemeses. The Patriots didn't beat Denver, they killed them. The Patriots have never looked this good against Denver, and Denver hasn't looked this bad against the Patriots, or anyone else for that matter, at least in the Mike Shanahan era.
Matt Cassel, despite being sacked six times, threw three touchdown passes and enjoyed his best game since high school. Randy Moss caught two touchdown passes and was all smiles in his postgame press conference. Sammy Morris rushed for a career-high 138 yards, all of it in the first half. The Patriots crushed the Broncos, 41-7 at Gillette Stadium and advanced to 4-2, one game behind the division-leading Bills.
Some goofbrain on ESPN came up with this stat: The Patriots are 8-2 following games where the Red Sox are eliminated from the playoffs. Thanks, Tito. Bill owes you one.
Seriously, the Broncos made sure that the Patriots needed no karma whatsoever from the recently deposed world champions of baseball. The Broncos played incredibly lousy and at times undisciplined football, such that Shanahan was visibly upset and embarrassed after the game, not to mention during.
The Broncos got off to a bad start right off the bat and failed to seize control of a game where the Patriot offense basically came out flat. The Broncos drove 41 yards in 12 plays on their first drive of the game, and 23 yards on four plays on their second. Each drive ended with an Andre Hall fumble, his only two carries of the game. His first fumble was on a right end run for three yards to the Patriot 35, but Lewis Sanders knocked the ball loose and LeKevin Smith recovered. Ty Warren punched the ball out on the second one at the Patriot 37, and Jerod Mayo recovered all the way down to the Denver 22. Shanahan was so livid at Hall that he never returned to the game as a running back.
What should have kept things interesting for the Broncos is that the Patriots managed only two field goals off of these turnovers. Stephen Gostkowski connected from 31 and 40 yards out to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead, and some folks began to wonder if this would turn out to be another massacre from an AFC West team for the second straight week.
Not on your five Bronco turnovers and lack of run defense.
Those two factors were the main reason New England won big despite the slow start by the Patriot offense. Despite the fact that Denver was 32nd in the league in pass defense, the Patriots instead attacked Denver with the ground game. Cassel still put up nice numbers despite being sacked six times, but it was Morris who set the pace and tone of the game. Running almost exclusively off left tackle behind Matt Light and Logan Mankins, the holes were opened up large and often. Morris gained all his yards in the first half before leaving with an undisclosed injury.
A good indication of how well the Patriots were able to gash the Bronco run defense came in the form of twice going for it on fourth down. In the second quarter, on fourth and one at the Denver 4-yard line, Morris ran off right tackle behind a great Heath Evans block on D.J. Williams, and he plowed in for the touchdown to make it 13-0 Patriots. Later in the first half, the Patriots had fourth and one at the Denver 42, and Bill Belichick brazenly went for it, handing the ball once again to Morris off left tackle. Morris got a gaping hole and exploded down the left sideline for 29 yards to the Denver 13. Cassel found Moss in the end zone for a touchdown pass on the very next play.
The second half featured undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis out of Ole Miss. Not nearly as quick as Morris or Kevin Faulk, Green-Ellis was able to find some holes (again mostly off left tackle) in this hideous Bronco run defense, and he was able to muster 65 yards on 13 carries for a five-yard average. Green-Ellis won't get this much hay against better run defenses, but he did get some valuable game experience, as well as his first NFL touchdown near the end of the game, a one-yard run to complete the scoring.
Penalties also hurt Denver. On the final offensive possession of the first half, Cassel was sacked by Elvis Dumervil at the Patriot 8, then rolled right on the next play and threw the ball away. But instead of fourth and long deep in their own territory, Jamie Winborn was called for a facemask. Two plays later, Ebenezer Ekuban was called for a late hit. The two penalties took the Patriots from their eight to midfield, and that would lead to the first Moss touchdown to make it 20-0 at the half. A chop block against Michael Pittman and a holding call on Darrell Jackson on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter killed off an offensive possession. The Broncos were flagged a total of eight times for 87 yards.
Cassel finished with 18 of 24 passing for 185 yards and three touchdowns (the other going to Wes Welker) despite the six sacks. His passer rating was 136.3. Cassel's former teammate, Daniel Graham, was responsible for Denver's only touchdown, a 10-yard catch in the fourth quarter to make it 34-7 at the time and prevent Shanahan from being shut out for the first time as Bronco head coach.
Rodney Harrison was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter. He suffered a brutal knee twist and had to be driven off the field on a cart. It was the second time during the game he got hurt, but this one looked serious on replay. At Harrison's age, if this is similar to Tom Brady's injury, it could be the end of Harrison's career. Brandon Meriweather came in and played well (he had one of Cutler's two interceptions, James Sanders the other) in Harrison's place, but Harrison's leadership is always the biggest missing element when he is not in there.
The Patriots now get a resurgent Rams team at home, a team they've not seen in Foxborough since 2001. They are 2-0 since firing Scott Linehan, and dispatched Dallas on Sunday (Dallas was without Tony Romo), 34-14. The Patriots are plenty resurgent enough after walloping a team they traditionally do poorly against.
8-2 in games following Sox elimination? The fact that John Henry and Bob Kraft are friends is nice, but one must wonder how often is that friendship is sometimes strained just a bit.
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